A United Nations conference has agreed to start negotiations to control the manufacture and use of weapons such as cluster bombs, grenades and artillery shells. But humanitarian agency officials say action has to be taken soon to save lives.

Officials from private humanitarian organizations say that while talk about limiting weapons like landmines and cluster bombs is going on at the United Nations, people in Afghanistan are being blown up by these weapons.

Richard Lloyd, the director of a British group devoted to eliminating landmines, Landmine Action, UK, said something has to be done urgently to save the lives of people living in war zones. "What we want to see is an agreement that has a practical difference to the lives of the people that are living with this stuff. And in the meantime, there is no excuse for continuing to use cluster munitions, in particular," he said. "There is no excuse for not putting more resources into the work that helps the communities, and that is clearance, primarily. It is not good enough in the view of many of us, certainly my organization. Landmine Action does not think it is good enough to say OK we might see what we can do in 2003 because kids are being blown up today."

The humanitarian groups say unexploded cluster munitions and other explosives pose dangers months and even decades after a conflict has ended.

Since the war in Laos ended 30 years ago, studies show at least 11,000 people have been killed and injured from unexploded ordnance. People continue to be killed and maimed in Kosovo.

The director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, Steven Goose, said it is important that U.N. negotiators focus on the use of cluster bombs and how they are targeted. "The fact that cluster bombs are prone to indiscriminate use needs to be dealt with. We also need to address not just post-conflict issues, but issues such as existing stocks of cluster bombs," he said. "We used to talk about landmines numbering perhaps hundreds of millions of stockpiles. With cluster munitions, we are probably talking more than a billion, possibly billions in stocks as well as those already in the ground."

Mr. Goose says, unless decisive action is taken, cluster bombs, like landmines, will continue to destroy lives for years to come.